Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Rachel Armstrong: Beyond Sustainability 25 Points

Sustainability?  Is that enough?  No states Rachel Armstrong in the World's first Twitter lecture, delivered through Twitter University.

These 25 points were delivered by Rachel Armstrong in the first ever lectured delivered via Twitter, through the auspices of the newly formed Twitter University.  We will attempt to fill in these outline discussion points, which Twitter by necessity and design produces.

1. Cities are evolved - not made 
It is an established fact that the design of cities, especially in the 19th and 20th centuries was based on the then current knowledge and understanding of scientific principles.  But what both of these centuries conceived in terms of "city planning," was that man imposed his city on the ground assigned for that purpose.  Of course, while obvious topographical considerations like rivers, lakes and such were taken into account, overall, little else was seen as an encumbrance for the desired design. In an excellent 1986 book titled, The Knowledge Society: The Growing Impact of Scientific Knowledge On Social Relations, by Gernot Bohme and Nico Stehr state in their chapter, The Scientification of Architecture the following:
The growth of cities in the 19th century was mainly regulated in terms of building laws and not city planning.  Building and city growth were largely dependent on proprietorship.  More comprehensive planning was made only for military reasons, and for street and water supply planning, etc.  City planning was carried out by military engineers, members of the corps of road and water engineers, and civil engineers.  Very few architects were involved and their tasks were limited to building design.
This approach and even the approach of the 20th century where architects began to be employed to direct the structure of cities still assumed that man could simply form nature's confusion to his own "orderly" vision.  A classic example of this was the restructuring of Paris by Baron Haussmann from 1853-1870.  Although there is much beauty created by this design in the city of Paris, it still falls short of what modern cities require.  Another example of this grand design was Frederick Law Olmsted's design of Central Park in New York City.
Here it can be clearly seen just how this worldview perceived nature.  In this case the "wilderness" of nature was contained within the civilization of man.  Of course even in this case, it was a planned wilderness, with many artificially constructed ponds, hills and tree structures.  This park is a beautiful place, but the very foundation of its view was flawed.  Indeed in the very words of Olmsted as justification for the building of Central Park, lay the problem:
It is one of the great purposes of the Park to supply to the hundreds of thousands of tired workers, who have no opportunity to spend their summers in the country, a specimen of God’s handiwork that shall be to them, inexpensively, what a month or two in the White Mountains or the Adirondacks is, at great cost, to those in easier circumstances.
This visualization was one which assumed the Industrial revolution, a landscape which in the words of William Blake was full of "satanic mills."  Man was not seen as living in nature, but living in his own artificially designed world.

But all of these designs and thoughts, including the more modern functional movements in architecture of the early and mid 20th century still had one vital missing piece of scientific understanding - the understanding of how networks functioned.  As Rachel Armstrong put it to us in a private email discussing this point.
... historically cites of course have evolved - but they were not designed to evolve!! This is particularly true of the modern era where buildings are 'planned' then built then used ... in that order .. In an evolving city the order works the other way around!!
Professor Michael Batty
In a fascinating 2008 article entitled, The Size, Scale and Shape of Cities, published in the journal Science, Professor Michael Batty from University College of London, where he directs the Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis (CASA) explained in the abstract of the article that,
Despite a century of effort, our understanding of how cities evolve is still woefully inadequate. Recent research, however, suggests that cities are complex systems that mainly grow from the bottom up, their size and shape following well-defined scaling laws that result from intense competition for space. An integrated theory of how cities evolve, linking urban economics and transportation behavior to developments in network science, allometric growth, and fractal geometry, is being slowly developed. This science provides new insights into the resource limits facing cities in terms of the meaning of density, compactness, and sprawl, and related questions of sustainability. It has the potential to enrich current approaches to city planning and replace traditional top-down strategies with realistic city plans that benefit all city dwellers.
His thesis was further in a ScienceDaily article stating,
...planning’s reliance on the imposition of idealised geometric plans upon cities is rooted in the nineteenth century attitude which viewed cities as chaotic, sprawling and dirty. Instead, he reports research that suggests beneath the apparent chaos, there is a strong order: “Cities are the example par excellence of complex systems: emergent, far from equilibrium, requiring enormous energies to maintain themselves, displaying patterns of inequality spawned through agglomeration and intense competition for space, and saturated flow systems that use capacity in what appear to be barely sustainable but paradoxically resilient networks.”
Thus the modern city is a complex system, requiring an understanding of network science.  Thus if we are dealing with complex emergent systems when it comes to cities, computer simulations are essential to understand what might happen depending on what changes would occur in and around the city, even out to global changes that might affect the city.  So although Professor Patty is not strictly interested in Information Technology, he is very interested in how Information Technology informs the future of cities.  For a fuller explanation of Professor's Batty's ideas we provide a video presentation he made at the Future of Technology Conference in September of 2010.  If you cannot see the embedded video, here is the link: http://youtu.be/4dKI4yPyYMs.

We include these videos about future architecture and cities as just an example of what might be.  If you cannot see the embedded videos, here is the link: http://youtu.be/NmRoc7_jVdo.

In our next installment in this series, we will provide the other 25 points Dr. Armstrong presented in her Twitter lecture.

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